Lure of college football strong
Countless boys, especially those living in Columbus, dream of one day being part of a major college football program.
Except for a select few, that aspiration begins to fade during the middle of their high school years when they find out they don't have the arm strength or the speed, or that they're not likely to grow taller than 6 feet.
Of the 34 central Ohio athletes who signed letters of intent with either Football Bowl Subdivision or Football Championship Subdivision schools from the 2012 senior class, only eight committed to BCS schools.
For every player like DeSales graduate Warren Ball, who was among Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class, there are dozens like 2012 Olentangy Orange graduate Brandon Schoen.
Ball, who rushed for 29 touchdowns as a high school senior but missed his freshman season with the Buckeyes because of foot surgery, is 6-1 and 215 pounds. He will look to be in the mix for carries as a redshirt freshman next fall.
Schoen, meanwhile, was the district's Offensive Player of the Year in Division I as a senior, when he also rushed for 29 touchdowns. The 5-11, 190-pounder signed with Division II Ohio Dominican and made an immediate impact, rushing for 1,007 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall.
Yet another avenue for those who want to continue their football careers but don't receive scholarship money at an FBS, FCS or even a Division II school is the walk-on route.
Ball is among 15 players on Ohio State's roster originally from central Ohio and on scholarship with the Buckeyes. Another nine who would have been on the sidelines in a bowl game had the Buckeyes not been ineligible this season are in the program as walk-ons.
Craig Fada, who helped Watterson win the 2010 Division III state championship and was the district's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2011, recently completed his freshman walk-on season for Ohio State.
He is among numerous players throughout major college programs who are filling roles on scout teams and working hard to simply get into a game despite their walk-on status.
Another such player is 2011 Dublin Coffman graduate Jerrod Bierbower.
In high school, Bierbower was known as much for being a faceoff midfielder for the Shamrocks' boys lacrosse program as he was for being a football player.
After a preseason injury kept Bierbower from playing football as a junior in 2009, he started at defensive back and made second-team all-OCC-Central Division as a senior in 2010 as his team went 8-3.
Bierbower looked into playing lacrosse for Ohio State and also received football interest from Indiana State, but he had something bigger in mind.
After sending a video of himself playing football to the University of Alabama, he was offered an opportunity to be a preferred walk-on.
The lure of immediate playing time at a smaller school or staying close to home couldn't outweigh Bierbower's aspiration of playing for one of college football's most prestigious programs.
As a safety for the Crimson Tide's scout team, Bierbower has been part of the preparation for an offense led by quarterback A.J. McCarron, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Bierbower didn't get on the field a year ago when Alabama beat LSU 21-0 for the BCS national championship, and he likely won't see action when the Tide plays Notre Dame for this season's title Jan. 7 in Miami.
Still, he isn't taking his experience for granted.
"It's been really fun dressing for all of these big games," Bierbower said. "I've just got to put my time in and just have to keep progressing on the field."
What Bierbower has experienced at Alabama is college football that he describes as "way bigger down here" than it is even in his hometown.
He'll also get his second consecutive front-row seat for the biggest game in college sports and the knowledge that he played a role in his team getting there, which is not a bad reward for deciding not to give up on his dream.
Jarrod Ulrey is a ThisWeek sportswriter. Follow his blog, "On the Recruiting Trail," for the latest in central Ohio high school recruiting news.